Before the long-awaited Wonder box set, At the Close of a Century, was issued, this triple-album set was the ultimate early Wonder collection. It contains every major hit and many other vital singles from 1962–1971, showing his evolution from Ray Charles' disciple to assembly-line hitmaker to individualistic artist. Unlike its other anthologies, which have been carved down from three-volume vinyl LPs to double-disc sets, Motown simply deleted this one altogether, although vigilant collectors may be able to obtain it through used record stores. It wouldn't be until 1999's At the Close of a Century that another Stevie Wonder anthology which included material from this period would be released.
In a contemporary review, Russell Gersten of The Village Voice wrote that, although it suffers from some poorly chosen material and omissions, the album is ultimately an "essential record" that "requires a bit more imagination and knowledge to appreciate than most anthologies, but the raw ingredients are there. Wonder worked in an era of excesses, and his fight to find meaning is—in its own modest way—uplifting." The newspaper's Robert Christgau shared a similar sentiment and said that Looking Back is at the same time "flawed, long overdue, and essential." He included it in his 1980 list of singles and albums recommended for "a basic record library".
In a retrospective review for Allmusic, writer Rob Bowman gave Looking Back five stars and said that Wonder's songs from the 1960s were unique from most other Motown artists because he had a hand in writing them and his producers rarely collaborated with acts such as the Temptations or the Supremes.J. D. Considine, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992), gave the album four-and-a-half out of five stars and felt that it is a significantly better compilation than Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1971) because of how it highlights both his studio albums up to that point and several non-LP singles.